Tenants who asked their billionaire landlord for a rent reduction during the coronavirus pandemic were told to use the money they would have spent on lunches and holidays to pay the full amount due.
More than 100 residents living in a block in Somerford Grove, east London, signed a letter addressed to their management estate agency and the buildings corporate landlords asking for a 20% reduction in rent and an agreement that no tenant would be evicted during the coronavirus pandemic.
But the letting agent, Tower Quay properties, told them their request was “unreasonable” and “unrealistic”, adding that any drop in tenants income would be minimised by a reduction in spending on holidays, entertainment, travel, clothes and lunches.
“Subsequently, when all of this is taken into account, in most cases we believe the impact on disposable income will be minimal, and there is therefore no justification for any reduction in rent, especially considering that whilst tenants are isolating the wear and tear in properties is increasing, which will be at the cost of the landlord,” the agent said.
The agent also noted the recent support announced by the government, adding that the buildings commercial landlords did not speak directly to tenants and that all communication was to be with the agent.
Tower Quay is agent for 170 flats in Somerford Groveon behalf of the tenants corporate landlords. Most of the tenants who signed the letter have three corporate landlords that are also the freeholders: Simpson House 3, Reverie Estates SR Limited, and Somerford Assets 3. All three companies are majority owned by the billionaire property developer John Christodoulou.
While Somerford Assets 3 is the freeholder for some flats at Olympic House on 12 Somerford Grove, the leaseholder for around a dozen of the tenants who signed the letter is Windermere Holdings Overseas SA, incorporated in the British Virgin Island. The owner of this company is not apparent.
Christodoulou owns several properties and hotels across the UK and has appeared on the Sunday Times Rich List. There is no suggestion he was personally aware of the tenants request when it was initially made, or the agents response.
Marc Sutton, 41, one of the residents who signed the letter, said: “The letter was asking the landlords to work with us so we can keep as many people paying money as possible, even if it was at a reduced rate. We asked 20% for everyone because it seemed like almost everyone was losing work. Many residents are freelancers or doing multiple jobs in gig work.”
While Tower Quay properties refused to negotiate with the tenancy association, the estate agent did respond to individual requests.
Patrick Mcdowell, 24, who owns a small sustainable fashion business, said he was told he could get a 20% rent reduction in May and June, but would be expected to pay his full rent plus 20% in July and August. “There was a clause in that agreement that said it was void if I told anybody else in the building about it,” he said.
One tenant who had lost their job, and wished to remain anonymous, received the same offer after inquiring about a rent reduction. “I dont know where they think Im going to find a job in three months. Nobody is hiring. I just cant believe theyre not willing to budge just an inch to try and help us out.”
Kieran Kirkwood, a spokesperson for London Renters Union (LRU), said: “Tower Quays suggestion that their tenants could be saving money on lunch and holidays in the midst of a global pandemic beggars belief. Many in the block, like renters everywhere, are seriously struggling to make ends meet.
“This shows what the governments pie in the sky strategy of relying on the compassion of landlords and letting agents means in practice: landlords and letting agents keep profiting while their tenants are forced to choose between rent and food.”
The LRU and other housing campaigners across the country have called on the government to suspend all rent payments and waive all arrears until the pandemic is over. Kirkwood said failure to do so would result in an “unprecedented crisis of poverty, evictions and homelessness”.
A Tower Quay spokesperson said tenants were being supported on an individual level and that it was clear there were residents who could still pay their rent. “It is also not feasible for a single landlord to simply offer all concessions to all tenants whilst there is no support being offered by the government to landlords to assist this.”
The spokesperson apologised if tenants thought remarks on money saved on lunches and cancelled holidays were insensitive, but added: “Based on discussions with other tenants we believe, in good faith, that these comments are true.”
Tower Quay said each property has separate corporate landlords and none have a landlord who is an individual. John Christodoulou did not respond to a request for a comment. It is understood he was not consulted personally by Tower Quay about the residents requests.